Synchronicity

It’s funny the way the world works. I often find that I have themes or lessons that follow me around for a few days or until something has been learnt.

When I left London almost two years ago, I left the bulk of my classes in the very capable hands of a lovely teacher friend. There was always a hope on my part that I might come back one day, but as the months turned into years, this became less and less likely. When I came back to London for summer at the end of July, it coincided perfectly with Billie going on maternity leave, and so I find myself back in my old life, teaching old classes to old (and some new) students.

It has been a genuine joy to reconnect with people and see how their lives have changed and progressed. A few of them are even on the way to becoming teachers themselves now. One such person used to run some kind of horrendous body balance class next to mine each week and every Wednesday without fail, just as I was winding down for savasana, he was winding up with his mega techno beats to some super hard core, sweat drenched finale. He was, is such a lovely guy and always had time to say hello (and apologise profusely for the noise) after class.

So on a funny day back in my old life last week I bumped in to him and he was telling me all about his yoga teacher training and how excited he was to become a teacher. He told me that when he met me, he had never thought about doing yoga, but my calmness and openness in those 2 minute interactions each week inspired him to find out what it was that made me that way and his journey into yoga began.

He asked me what was the one thing that was more important than any other when becoming a teacher and then proceeded to try and answer his own question – was it self practice, planning, study, experience? The place where you trained or who your own teachers were? I waited for him to talk himself out because in the funny way the world works, I knew exactly what I wanted to say – I had written it on a piece of paper at the end of class the night before.

thoughts on teaching

This is not a blog post where I tell you how virtuous I am and how good I am at living my yoga. Believe me when I say I fail all the time at being the calm, serene, kind person I would like to be.

But the day before he asked me the question, I had re learnt a powerful old lesson and I like the way that my life works in themes and patterns.

The lesson…

I have a student – let’s call him James. He is my most challenging student. He is one of the most disconnected-to-his-body people I have ever met and despite the fact that he is a lawyer and obviously academically intelligent, he literally cannot find his nose with his finger.  He has zero strength, balance, coordination and when I first met him could barely differentiate between an inhale and exhale. James came to yoga because of an old disc injury and subsequent chronic back pain. When I first started teaching him in was always in a group of five or six so it was impossible to give him all the attention he needed. I did what I could – watched for danger and often just let him get on with what he thought was the right thing to do, advising him go slowly, listen to his body and to work in a way that wouldn’t take him in to pain.

Through a series of events I ended up with him first of all in a semi private class. When it was only him and one other, I was able to help him understand the importance of the breath and once he got the hang of it, he breathed well. I started to worry a bit less because I believe the breath is the beginning of being able to really connect and I felt instinctively that if he was breathing well, that his body would work a bit better, even if only on a subconscious level. I still found him hard to work with and sometimes had an almost aversion to him being in class, I would secretly hope that he wouldn’t turn up some weeks (see – a typical failing of compassion and generosity!)

And then I ended up with him all on his own, and I got to know him, and I got to understand his body and his injury and I started to realised that I had some tools that may be able to help him.  I tried to find some compassion and empathy towards him and I realised that he is just a man in pain, trying to help himself – and the very best gift I could give would be to help him.

So we began. From the beginning. We worked on the core muscles – what they do, how they work, why they are important for stabilising back pain. We returned to the breath and refined it and deepened it and understood that it is a vital part of accessing muscle movement – especially muscles that are so tight and locked that they barely move when trying to get into a traditional asana.

And then we tried a sun salutation. And I tried to get him to take responsibility and learn sun salutation A well enough that he could take it home and practice on his own. After the first 60 minute class of doing nothing but sun salute A, he still couldn’t remember how to get passed the first uttanasana, but I sent him off with a drawing and some you tube ideas and I told him to practice and do you know what? He did. He came back the following week and even though what he was doing looked nothing like a sun salutation – he had changed. He was engaged. The next week his movement started to flow. The next week he could get through the whole sequence. This week he had movement, breath, sequence, mind all working together. But more, he has lost weight, his face is bright, he is no longer in pain, he understands that yoga can help him, or that by continuing to do yoga he can help himself. He is empowered because he is no longer dependent on physios and painkillers to get out of bed each day and he has achieved a goal that many, many yogis struggle with every day – a daily self practice.

We added warriors, triangles, back bends and his body was able to follow instruction. The poses are looking like poses and I couldn’t be happier that he has found something that works for him. I have found a love and compassion for him that wasn’t previously there and in the process he has taught me about me.

So when he was in savasana and I was thinking about the little journey we have been on together, I wrote the words above on a piece of paper and I went home on the bus thinking that this teaching lark is actually pretty easy – when we act from love, compassion – from the heart, it flows. People progress and we learn together. A few months ago when James turned up to learn, my heart literally sank. From that position, I didn’t want to have to do the work to get him where he needed to be. And I had to make a decision – to stop teaching him or to change myself. So that’s what I tried to do – I changed. I lifted and opened my heart and realised that with kindness and patience I could give him more than a yoga class, I could help him to discover tools that could enhance his life. And when I changed – he changed too. When I invested some time and patience in him he rewarded me by engaging and beginning his own self practice and then I wrote it down on a piece of paper and the very next day someone asked me what was already written.

As teachers we are often put on pedestals by our students, and we are very often guilty of holding ourselves to impossibly high standards. We are just people, doing our best and we get it wrong all the time- every day sometimes. But sometimes we get it right too, and that’s why I am here 7 years later, still loving every minute I get to call myself a yoga teacher

What we give, we receive.

Mariza Yoga Teacher Training, Chamonix September 2015

http://www.myyogapeople.com

Nerves

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Nerves are a part of teaching, everyone feels them sometimes and they often take us by surprise.

I remember one of my first classes as a teacher, it was a group of three women who lived on my street, in my excitement of having an actual paying customer I forgot to ask anything about them and diligently set about planning and memorising a class. When the day came, I had practiced into oblivion and knew the sequence by heart.

I arrived, we said hello and I asked how everyone was; lady one was an ashtangi with ten years practice under her belt, number two was a complete beginner, had never seen a downward facing dog, the third was 6 months pregnant. The plan was out the window.

In the absence of my safety blanket – my well prepared class, I froze. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be and my brain was in revolt. Somehow I stuttered through the class and they even asked me back again, what I learnt was this;

Plans are good.  We need them to keep us moving forwards, to know where we are going. Nothing kills ambition faster than a lack of a plan. What we don’t want is to become attached to the plan, to use it as a crutch and to become inflexible, shocked or angry when things end up taking a different path. Yoga teaches us to be flexible, yes this may start in the muscles, but that’s just the entrance point, you may have heard the adage that what happens on the mat is just a metaphor for what happens in life – and its true – our bodies and our minds are one, each reflects the other. As a teacher, i often note that those with the stiffest minds frequently have the stiffest bodies too.

Life will always throw us twists and turns and we cannot always control what we receive, what we can learn to control is our reactions, to try and stay fluid and adapt to a new reality.  This is by no means an easy task and for every time I get it right, there are two more I get wrong – by stamping my feet, or feeling sorry for myself or just getting plain old angry. Sometimes I am so attached to the old plan – the one that went the way I wanted it to in my head, that I fail to see the emerging opportunities in the change of scenario.

As yogis we frequently talk about non attachment. When my teacher first introduced the concept, I out and out rejected it. To me it seemed like an excuse to remain aloof about life, to not engage with people or projects, a kind of not caring. I on the other hand, wanted to feel everything, do and try everything even if it hurt or went wrong.

What I eventually realised is that non attachment isn’t about not feeling or not caring – to me it is about being ok with an unforeseen change in circumstances – an alteration of the plan. We can really want something to happen, wanting is ok, but we must learn to be content if it doesn’t work out the way we thought.

I still want to experience everything life throws at me (i live by the philosophy that i would rather get to the end of my life and have done it than not) but I am learning to not be so hung up on the outcome that I feel a sense of loss or failure  if things don’t go as planned. I am learning that sometimes the paths we didn’t take can lead us somewhere even more magnificent than we imagined.

Now when I go to class – i still have a plan, but it is an outline, something I would like to happen but not something that has to happen.  If I have planned a high energy vinyasa class and I walk in and everyone is softly snoring on their mats I know I need to change the tempo. If I was thinking long, deep twists and there are pregnant women in class, again the plan must be adapted. OUR practice should be exactly that – our own, and it is not my job to impose my ideas of what I think the practice should be, what I can do is try to create an environment where each person gets what they need.

I still suffer from bouts of nervousness when I teach, but I have somehow learnt to live with them as a necessary part of the process. I think they help to keep me on my toes. The freedom afforded by my own flexibility allows me to adapt to each class, student or situation as it arises and to respond to the needs of the individual.

“the key to contentment is letting each situation be what it is instead of what you think it should be.”

The next MarizaYoga teacher training starts September 2015. Please click here for more information and to apply

beginnings

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I will never forget the feeling of a yoga class I took in Summer 2006. It wasn’t the first class I ever took, but it did provide my first real experience of what yoga is, the first time I ‘got it’, the first time I allowed myself to think that maybe I could teach this too.
I don’t remember the teacher’s name or anything much about him – he was an American living in India and he was covering a class called Yoga Bootcamp.
As the name suggests, Yoga Bootcamp was about sweating hard, looking good and showing off – it was a fun, soulless class in a busy London gym.

The day this guy walked in there were only 4 of us instead of the usual 40 or so, he chanted whilst I tried not to laugh and then proceeded to take us though a slow, mindful hatha practice. Despite my initial resistance, my body responded instantly. Without momentum, I needed strength, to gather strength, I needed breath and the slower the practice became, the sharper my mind grew. He taught us about the pelvic floor, about mula bandha and before my mind could question, my body did as it was told. I loved feeling the slowness of movement, the combined strength of muscle groups working together. I loved the way the breath made me feel awake and inspired and like anything was possible. I loved the instant ache in the belly of my biceps as I held warrior two for what felt like a lifetime and I liked him – he was calm and soft and completely at ease in this huge, empty room.

I was already thinking about visiting India and I remember running home to tell my mum how excited I was, that I would go to India and find this man and learn everything he had to teach. I dreamed of coming home a serene and happy being, leaving my job in TV and teaching yoga as my trade.

A few months later I did make it to India and although I never found the man, I ended in Mysore where I took my first teacher training. These days, I frequently fail in my attempts at serenity, thankfully the happiness is easier to come by. One of the many lessons I have learnt along the way is that yoga cannot make us someone we are not. It is not a panacea for our problems but it is a great tool to help us view them with clarity and balance. Happiness is a choice, we have to work hard at it, our other traits we need to learn to live with rather than eliminating them altogether.

“yoga is the practice of tolerating consequences of being yourself”
Bhagavad Gita

The next MarizaYoga teacher training starts in September 2015. Please click here for more details

Yogageek goes to class

I went to a yoga class today without my contact lenses. I can’t wear my glasses to practice because they fall off and get in the way but I figured, I have a pretty good idea of how to follow instructions, I’ll just go ‘blind’ and I’ll be fine.

The instructions were hard to follow and the teacher didn’t use the names of the poses so I had to look a lot and I wasn’t sure I was getting a lot of it right. It got me thinking about my own style of teaching. Last week I was fortunate enough to spend a few day with Judy Lasater in London. The workshop was called One True Thing, it was about finding your Dharma in life, your purpose. That one thing that it would be criminal for you not to do.

We worked around core values and about 3rd on my list was clarity. I sometimes feel like I am misunderstood, that people don’t get what I am trying to say and over the years I have realised that as I am the common theme, it must be the way I phrase things, the way I communicate, that I am sometimes not as clear as I could be, or not speaking a language available to everyone. As I wrote ‘clarity’ on my list I asked myself if it was cheating to put it down. I value clarity, but I do not always achieve it in my own life and teachings.

When teaching, my general marker is this; if I look around and 90% of people are doing what I said and 10% are doing their own thing, I generally assume it was a good, clear instruction. If the opposite is true, I know I need to try again. In my personal life I am not always so objective. What time and life has taught me is that if I don’t feel clear in what I want to communicate, my words will reflect that. My words are a reflection of my thoughts, my feelings at that moment, my day until that point. If I’m shy I speak quietly, if I’m confident I project and make eye contact and ensure that people understand exactly what it is I am trying to convey. The outside is a mirror for the inside and everything we experience is the reality we project onto the world.

So this class today, it was ok, but the room was cold and the teacher was cold and I didn’t understand the directions. After class she came to speak to us and I realised that this was largely down to her personality, to her thoughts on the inside. This is not a criticism, it is a tool to help myself learn and grow. And what I learnt was this; that when we are teaching a yoga class, we are responsible for every body and soul on the mats in front of us. I think I can hide my true feelings, but I cannot. I am me, always and 100% of the time. If I’ve had a bad day, my students will feel this, if I don’t want to be there, they feel it too. What happens next is what we do with the information. To me this doesn’t mean if I’m not at my best I cannot teach….it teaches me that I am human, and flawed and that this is ok. Teachers are not superhuman, despite the projections of grandeur that we sometimes receive, we are normal people, human beings and we are right and wrong and beautifully fallible. Instead of saying, ‘I feel shit, I don’t want to be here’ maybe we can say, I feel scared today and vulnerable and I chose to share my vulnerability with you, my students so that we can grow together, so that I can accept your help and be nurtured by the energy you create whilst you practice in this space I am holding. So that we can share and love and forgive and grow and ultimately become stronger, better, more compassionate to the suffering of others, more loving to ourselves.

I strive for clarity, honesty and openness and I know that I don’t always succeed. But what I also know is that this is ok, to be aware is to be half way to solving the problem and I would rather fail with awareness than be blind to my own limitations